Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hunter S. Thompson And The Death Of The American Dream

Hunter S. Thompson was asked to write a book on the Death of the American Dream. The assignment came shortly after the release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, just about the time he was hitting the campaign trail in 1972.

If you read letters penned by Thompson at the time what becomes painfully clear is that neither he nor the publisher ever had a clear picture of what the book was supposed to be.

And so it was, five books and almost two decades later Thompson released Songs Of The Doomed - More Notes On The Death Of The American Dream. It was designated Gonzo Papers Volume 3.

I got to wondering what it would have been like if Dr. Gonzo had been blogging on the subject. The best way to find out, I concluded, was to do another interview.

As a precursor to the interview I asked Thompson's long-time collaborator, artist Ralph Steadman what Dr. Gonzo meant to him.
"For better or worse he sees inside the blackness of those silhouettes searching for the soul of a nation, united only in its desire to seek individuality in the melting pot. It is a privilege to have him in my life."
- Ralph Steadman
(page 33)

Next, of course, it was The Good Doctor himself.

You had a long writing career, Doc. I wonder about how you think your perspective changed over time.
"Ten years before --- even five --- I had been the same way. I wanted it all and I wanted it fast and no obstacle was big enough to put me off. Since then I have learned that some things were bigger than they looked from a distance, and now I was not so sure anymore just what I was going to get or even what I deserved."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 76)

There has been no shortage of analysis of who Hunter S. Thompson is. How do you define yourself?
"I am a writer, a professional journalist with serious credentials in Crime, Craziness, and Politics. I have mingled with dangerous criminals and attended many trials . . . from Hell's Angels, Black Panthers and Chicano street fighters to Roxanne Pulitzer and even Richard Nixon, back in the good old days before he was run out of the White House for fraud, perjury, graft, and criminal negligence."
-Hunter S. Thompson
(page 296)

Some say that writers see the world in a unique way. What do you think?
"One of the few ways I can almost be certain I'll understand something is by sitting down and writing about it. Because by forcing yourself to write about it and putting it down in words, you can't avoid having to come to grips with it. You might be wrong, but you have to think about it very intensely to write about it. So I use writing as a learning tool."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 109)

Anyone who knows anything about your life knows while you attained great fame it wan't always easy. Do you think fate played a significant role?
"I have thought this way several times in my life but only when circumstances have led me to a bad pass. No man who has chosen well and wisely will ever credit it to fate; the only real fatalist is a man on his way down the pipe. There is no solace in fatalism."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 93)

Can you point to any one job in journalism that was significant in developing what eventually came to be known as gonzo?
"National Observer became my road gig out of San Francisco. I was too much for them. I would wander in on off hours drunk and obviously on drugs, asking for my messages. Essentially, they were working for me. They liked me, ,but I was the Bull in the China Shop --- The more I wrote about politics the more they realized who they had on their hands. they knew I wouldn't change and neither would they."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 106)

More than anything you're known for writing about politics and sports. What's the one thing you would tell people they need to know to better understand politics?
"Revenge is one of the few things in politics that never gets lost in the mail or written off for a dime on the dollar like losers' campaign debts or pledges to help the Poor."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 268)

Can you describe the moment when you realized that gonzo journalism had connected with the public?
"But then just days after it came out, I began to get calls and letters from all over the country saying what a fantastic breakthrough format in journalism. I thought, Jesus Christ . . . I guess I shouldn't say anything. In a way it was an almost accidental breakthrough --- a whole new style of journalism which now passes for whatever Gonzo is . . . accidental and desperation."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 137)

On a related note, where did the phrase fear and loathing come from?
"It started when I left Vegas that first time, skipping the hotel bill, driving off in that red convertible all alone, drunk and crazy, back to L.A. That's exactly what I felt. Fear and loathing."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 142)

It wouldn't be a far stretch to say you're known as a gambler as much as a writer. How do you feel about that?
"But I am in the gambling business, for good or ill; it is the business I have chosen, and the only governing rule that we all recognize is: always sit close to an exit and never trust a man who doesn't sweat."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 245)

I'd like to close with something a lot of people don't know you have a passion for, golf.
"The Ping Eye 2 Beryllium One iron is my favorite club. All golfers fear and hate the One. It has no angle, no pitch, no loft . . . It is straight up and down, like a putter, and the chances of a normal person getting a ball up in the air with it are usually about 1,000 to 1 against . . . The one iron is a confidence crusher, a Fear Trip, with almost certain guarantee of Shame, Failure, Dumbness, and Humiliation if you ever use it in public. Few PGA pros ever touch the One, and most amateurs won't even carry it in their bags. The One is so ugly, they will tell you, so evil an wrong by nature that its mere presence in the bag poisons all the other clubs."
- Hunter S. Thompson
(page 299)

Thanks, Doc. What do you say we burn one?


Rev. Kimberly Rich said...

This was very entertaining! I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog link on your stumble page. I really enjoyed reading about this man. I honestly didn't know who he was, but he is very intelligent and I think I will buy his books, he writes about so many things I am interested in. Thank you for sharing and expanding my mind to something new!, Cortnee'

thegreymadness said...

Verily cool.

Always good news to find another who not only loves but understands HST's iconoclastic nature and approach to life.

I found him years ago and though I love others writing, especially some of the classics, he is always at the top of the mountain one day I hope to find and climb.

Of course having a penchant for beer and whisky at the end of each day after dealing with the mentally unwell and personality disordered prisoners at Mt Eden Prison no doubt leans me towards his special insights.

Have Hells Angles, The Proud Highway, The Great Shark Hunt, Generation of Swine, The Rum Diary, Better than Sex, Songs of the Doomed, The Curse of Lono, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trial 72 and of course Fear and Loathing in Las Vagas.

Would like to one day write as HST in Gonzo style on Owl Farm.

Check out my ramblings, have recently placed all prison weekly at risk summary ramblings (past 4 years) on blog after my much smarter brother set it up for me.

Love your work and intent.